Science is what makes posting this little article possible. It allows you to access my ramblings on your phone and read them at your desk, break room, or in the restroom (I’m sure I’m the only one who reads The Cool Ship in the bathroom.). Recently an article was posted to The Cool Ship about the faulty science behind the Fox television series Fringe. The well-written and truthful piece points out all of the flaws in the sci-fi procedural staring Joshua Jackson, John Nobel and Anna Torv. In case you missed it you can check it out here.
Since the Third Doctor said “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow”(which even I know would be an impossibility because neutrons are neutral and polarity refers to charge… ) and probably long before, there has been an effort point out the flaws in the reality of our fiction.
I say now for all to hear! “Who cares!?”
Who cares that the concepts upon which the show is based (alternate reality, shape shifting, etc.) aren’t possible and many are disproven on their face by simple principles of physics. I say “who cares because Fringe is awesome!”
The show centers on FBI agent Olivia Dunham; after her partner/lover is injured in an inexplicable and incurable fashion, she seeks the help of institutionalized scientist Walter Bishop.
In order to spring him from the loony bin Dunham requires the permission of Peter Bishop, the con man son of Walter. Walter worked for a the government studying what is referred to as “Fringe” or “Psuedo Science.” His experiments, most of which he seems to have forgotten, are now being utilized by someone for nefarious purposes. Walter’s former partner William Bell went on to found a multi billion dollar company called Massive Dynamic, whose reach seems to be infinite and tied to everything that is going on in the universe. Walter Bishop was institutionalized for 17 years over the death of one of his test subjects.
Though the experiments in question do not qualify as science, most of them have at some point been the subject of government funded research. From the Nazis to the Russians even to the United States, governments have dabbled in these scientific grey areas. A television series called Dark Matters: Twisted but True (based on the book series of same name) produced for the Science channel and starring John Nobel, who plays Walter Bishop, takes a twilight zone approach to recanting the results of some of these experiments. The docu-drama approach is a bit much, but the concept of the series is sound.
Two things make Fringe infinitely watchable and addictive. First, John Nobel as Walter Bishop is brilliant, playing the mad scientist who is more “Hatter” than “Frankenstein.” The more insight we get into Walter Bishop, the more we should dislike him. His methods were deplorable and self serving.
Completely dismissive of others in pursuit of truth, his work has caused quite a bit of damage both in our universe-and in the alternate world with which we are headed toward a war. Yet he comes off as a sweet grandfather type with an adoration of 70s rock and Red Vines.
The second is the way the stories are paced. The long plots that stretch across an entire season are usually rolled out slowly. Though the coming storm is foreshadowed in the prior episode, each time the build up is subtle. Just when I think I can give up and go to sleep something happens in the last 5 minutes that requires me to watch 8 or so additional episodes (thanks, Netflix!).
My biggest complaint is one I have with most American fiction, especially on television; the unnecessary and unrealistic love story. This tired device feels particularly forced in Fringe. I fail to see how the writers did not realize the damage this would do to their strong female lead. The “will they, won’t they?” moments are often more than I can bear.
Still, Fringe is a potent supernatural/sci-fi procedural in the vein of The X-files. It is without a doubt more fiction than science, and I don’t mind at all.